Last week, the “WannaCry” ransomware attack sent shockwaves through the cyber world. In just a few short hours, the software successfully infiltrated hundreds of thousands of computers in some 150 countries. While experts say the spread of the digital virus has slowed and even stopped in some countries, the damage is already done to those who were infected.
These unfortunate events serve as a reminder of how vulnerable our data is to encryption. Here, Computer Troubleshooters will delve into the common characteristics of a ransomware attack and what you should do to protect your computer.
What is a ransomware attack?
Ransomware attacks are a type of computer virus that uses software called malware to lock computer functionality until the victim pays a ransom, effectively holding files and data hostage. Malware can infect your computer in a few different ways. Hackers can send a malicious email, create a devious website or mobile application, or gain access to your computer through previous attempts. These days, hackers and other developers have greatly enhanced the capabilities of the software. Files are now encrypted by the hacker, instead of simply locking the victim out of them.
Recent attacks, like the WannaCry ransomware incident, shows these viruses spreading at an alarming speed. As the attackers improve their techniques, the risk of security breaches rises around the world. In 2015, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning, saying all types of ransomware attacks are on the rise. But other than that, the FBI is sort of helpless against ransomware; the encryption is just too hard for them to crack.
Who is targeted?
The digital data ransom business is booming. With the proliferation of mobile devices, hackers have even more options for infiltration; they can now target tablets and smartphones.
But hackers have figured out that price point for retrieving personal data has its limits. A lot of people simply aren’t willing to fork over large sums of cash (or, more accurately, bitcoins) for their personal files, especially since so many people share their information over social media.
More and more, these ransomware attacks are targeting large institutions, companies with sensitive information, government agencies and others. In 2016, programmers hijacked Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center’s computer system via ransomware, grinding the entire network of the 434-bed hospital to a halt. While the hospital briefly tried to revert to pen and paper records, they ended up paying 40 bitcoins (about $17,000) in ransom to regain control of their files. Hackers know that they are able to extort considerable amounts of money the more sensitive the data is.
But this doesn’t mean that individuals aren’t at risk. Ransomware is now developed in a way that can spread from computer to computer and country to country.
How to protect your data
Consumer awareness and security systems are becoming more prevalent. It is important to install security measures on your computers and devices to protect your personal information. But you can also protect yourself by following these steps from No More Ransom:
- Update your software always, but especially if it includes security updates.
- Install and use strong antivirus software.
- Back up your computer’s files by storing them in the cloud or on an external hard drive.
- Practice online safety: never open email attachments from people you don’t know and don’t visit suspicious websites.
If you or your business are in need of protection against online threats, contact your local Computer Troubleshooters. Enlist the help of Computer Troubleshooters today, before you become a victim of an online security breach.